Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2006-07-03 Reporter: Wyndham Hartley Reporter: Reporter:

German Firm Probed in SA Arms Payoffs



Business Day

Date 2006-07-03


Wyndham Hartley

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Cape Town — Confirmation of raids on SA’s corvette supplier in Germany in search of evidence of bribery and corruption has led to renewed calls for South African authorities to re-open parts of the investigation into the multibillion-rand arms deal.

Further details of the investigation by prosecutors in Dusseldorf are expected to be published in the national daily, Der Spiegel, today.

At issue are allegations that companies in the German Frigate Consortium, which supplied SA’s four state-of-the-art warships, paid R137m in bribes and concealed them as expenses.

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille yesterday released copies of letters confirming the investigation into ThyssenKrupp, and Democratic Alliance MP Eddie Trent urged that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in SA co-operate fully with the German investigation.

De Lille told a press conference yesterday that she felt vindicated by the news of the investigation because she had questioned the awarding of the contract to the Germans in 1999, when a year earlier they had not even made the short list.

“When I first said there were suspicions around the tender process for the corvettes, government said I did not understand the process. Now the German authorities have launched an investigation,” she said.

De Lille said that the German bid to supply the corvettes was reinstated and the British and Spanish offers dropped after a visit by then-deputy president Thabo Mbeki to Germany.

“The report of the forensic investigating team into the alleged irregularities in the arms deal that was accepted by Parliament under a cloud of controversy at the time, did not exclude further investigation on a case-by-case basis. A good place to start would be for the NPA to offer its full co-operation to the German authorities,” Trent said.

Mbeki last month failed to answer a question by Trent in Parliament about whether he attended a meeting in 1998 with French arms company Thomson-CSF to discuss to the arms deal.

“In 1998, you were head of the ministerial committee overseeing the arms deal. A secret meeting with Thomson-CSF, one of the bidders for the procurement package, would have amounted to a gross violation of tender procedures,” Trent had said.

Mbeki’s office has said he does not recall any such meeting.

The first letter released yesterday by De Lille, from the prosecuting authority in Dusseldorf, confirmed that an investigation was under way into allegations of illegal payments to South Africans by ThyssenKrupp.

The second was a letter from ThyssenKrupp itself saying that the investigation related to the responsible people in the company at that time and not to current employees.

It said it had a high interest in a full investigation and was co-operating with the authorities.

The defence ministry was not in a position to comment and asked for a detailed query to be sent to it.

The first of the patrol corvettes, the SAS Amatola, was handed over by the European South Africa Corvette Consortium to the navy in February. The fully operational Meko A200-class vessel, among the most advanced warships in the world today, was one of four such frigates delivered to SA as part of the arms deal.

With acknowledgement to Wyndham Hartley and Business Day.